The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

This blog article is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical advice.

In this article, you’ll learn the benefits of Intuitive Eating and gain a deeper understanding of the ten intuitive eating principles. In a few minutes, you’ll be ready to start your Intuitive Eating journey and be on your way to a healthy relationship with food and your body!

What Is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive Eating (IE) is a compassionate approach to self-care, eating, nutrition, and movement that promotes physical and mental health. It helps you find pleasure in food and the joy of moving your body. Through Intuitive Eating, you can learn to connect and respond to your body’s natural, biological signals, including hunger, fullness, satisfaction or emotional need. 

There are ten principles in Intuitive Eating, which I describe in detail below. They are not a checklist. Together they create a framework for achieving greater attunement with your body and its needs. Intuitive Eating is a practice, and it will take time to master. But it’s worth it. 

Being able to respond to what we REALLY need allows us to reap the health and wellness benefits that intuitive eaters enjoy, like better self-esteem and less emotional eating.

What Are The Benefits Of Intuitive Eating? 

Is Intuitive Eating Evidence Based?

Yes. In fact, as of 2020 when the most recent edition of Intuitive Eating was published, over 125 studies had been conducted showing the numerous benefits of Intuitive Eating. There is a growing body of evidence (scientific proof) supporting Intuitive Eating as an effective approach to improving physical health and mental well-being.

What Intuitive Eating Is Not

Intuitive Eating is not a diet or a weight loss program. In fact, Intuitive Eating should not be used as a weight loss or weight maintenance method. 

Why? Because at the core of Intuitive Eating is the recognition that dieting is harmful (for more on that topic, see this post). Thus, seeing IE as a tool to shrink your body is antithetical to the entire approach.

There are no meal plans or exercise prescriptions, no calorie counting, food logging or tracking apps in IE. The ten principles of Intuitive Eating are not a checklist, but instead, they serve to help undo the harm that years of dieting and the diet mentality have done to our mental health.

It is also not a “hunger and fullness” diet. It is emphatically anti-diet, in fact. Yes, honoring hunger and feeling fullness are part of the framework, but they are only two of the ten principles. There is so much more to Intuitive Eating than eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re comfortably full.

The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

Principle 1: Reject the Diet Mentality

The diet and weight loss industry make billions (yes, that’s a ‘b’) each year from convincing you that your body will be healthier, more attractive, more worthy of love and a whole line of other BS by buying their products. Perpetuating these lies keeps the dollars rolling in and keeps you believing that you have failed when the diet stops working or when you gain weight back. You keep hoping the next diet/plan/cleanse/reset/powder/pill/surgery will be the one that works for good. Then it doesn’t, leaving you searching for the next plan. 

STOP THIS MADNESS! 

Rejecting the diet mentality is what will give you true food and body freedom.

Principle 2: Honor Your Hunger

Eat adequately throughout the day. Ignoring hunger cues because it’s not “time” to eat or we “shouldn’t” be hungry can lead us to feeling ravenous. Making nutrition decisions in a “hangry” state leaves us open to making less desirable choices and episodes of overeating. Giving yourself adequate energy, carbs, proteins, and other nutrients when hunger signals begin helps you rebuild trust in your body’s inherent wisdom about what and how much to eat.

Principle 3: Make Peace with Food

Remove the rules about which foods are forbidden or allowed. When we tell ourselves a food is off limits, it becomes increasingly appealing, like the bad boy parents tell their teen not to date. We crave the forbidden food more, and when we have it, look out! We can’t get enough. We may feel out of control around that food or binge it, leaving us feeling shame and guilt. When we give up the food rules and call a truce, the forbidden foods have no power over us.

Principle 4: Challenge the Food Police

That feeling of satisfaction when you’ve eaten “right” and shame when you haven’t – that’s the Food Police blowing their proverbial whistles. These judgemental thoughts are not helping you respond to your body’s needs or eat with intuition. Questioning diet culture’s arbitrary rules is what principle 4 is all about, so that you can tune in to what really helps you feel your best.

Principle 5: Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Food that satisfies us sends off pleasure signals in our brains – an evolutionary adaptation that helps us seek out food to keep us alive. When we deny ourselves the foods that truly satisfy us because of diet culture messaging, we miss out on one of life’s most basic pleasures. Intuitive eating can help bring the joy and satisfaction back into eating. 

Principle 6: Feel Your Fullness

Dieting and restrictive eating practices disrupt the body’s natural signals for hunger and fullness. Intuitive eating helps you reestablish trust in your body’s ability to tell you when it has had enough. You can re-learn how to respond to fullness in a mindful way, so that eating until comfortably full becomes the norm.

Principle 7: Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness

Building skills for coping with difficult emotions, boredom, stress, or loneliness is part of pursuing a balanced life. If you have relied on food to soothe yourself when mad or anxious, you are not alone. Food can provide temporary relief or distraction, but often is not the long-term solution to the problem at hand. Becoming more attuned with your emotions and needs can be helpful to shift away from eating as a coping tool.

Principle 8: Respect Your Body

Recognize that your body is your “forever home” – it’s the only one you’ll ever have. Nourish it. Treat it with respect and kindness. Accept that your body’s size, like your height or shoe size, is determined largely by your genetics. Work towards a place of body acceptance so that you can reject the need to diet to change your body and truly feel better about who you are. 

Principle 9: Movement—Feel the Difference

Finding movement that feels positive not punishing can make all the difference in keeping your motivation to move high. Redefine what physical activity means to you and engage in movement that makes you feel fantastic.

Principle 10: Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition

Find a balance between the foods that support your health and those that give you great pleasure and satisfaction – some will do both! All foods can fit into a healthy eating pattern, so focus on the big picture. Your eating habits over the long haul are what really matter, not your choices in just one meal or snack.

What Is The Best Way To Start Intuitive Eating?

First, I would highly recommend reading the most recent edition of the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. This will help you become more familiar with the principles, the research showing its effectiveness, and why it has helped so many improve their health.

Once familiar with the 10 principles, choose one to begin with. I often begin clients with Discover the Satisfaction Factor (Principle 5) because beginning to explore the foods you enjoy can be easier than changing your mindset (Principle 1) or learning new coping skills (Principle 7). When you find success with one principle, give another a try.

If doing this on your own seems daunting, I recommend seeking out help. If you have been dieting for years, the idea of giving yourself unconditional permission to eat can feel uneasy or scary. Some folks fear what will happen without rules around food. The idea of trusting your body to determine when and how much to eat can often feel foreign to long-term dieters.  If this sounds like you, you may want the help of a registered dietitian (like me!) familiar with Intuitive Eating as your guide as you begin. 

Other Intuitive Eating Tools

There are also additional tools you can use on your own or in tandem with working with your intuitive eating dietitian. I wholeheartedly recommend and love The Intuitive Eating Workbook by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It’s full of exercises to help you dive deeper into each principle and reflect on your experiences practicing them.

Another book, Intuitive Eating for Every Day by Evelyn Tribole, is also a super resource. It is organized into single page tips, designed for daily inspiration. The prompts are excellent and are perfect for you if you like journaling or simply breaking things down into easily digestible bits.

Closing Thoughts

Pursuing Intuitive Eating has been nothing short of life-changing for me, and as a dietitian, I thoroughly endorse this approach. It is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes sustained effort. It goes against what we’ve been taught by diet culture. It also makes complete sense once the principles come together and click in your mind.

If you’re looking for support, you’ve come to the right place! I have special training in Intuitive Eating (and lived experience) and in treating clients with chronic dieting or disordered eating as a part of their history. I have helped many clients navigate the stages of Intuitive Eating and I can help you apply the principles to your life in a way that is not overwhelming.  

If you want support getting started with an Intuitive Eating dietitian, click here to set up a free 10 minute inquiry call. 

The links for purchasing the books embedded in the article support my local Montpelier, Vermont bookstore, Bear Pond Books. I do not receive compensation for your purchase. I just LOVE my local book shop and hope you will support small retailers if you decide to purchase the suggested titles.

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